Reading Charlie Hangley’s piece on this season seemingly turning into 1978 before our eyes made me wonder about lean eras in Met history. Some say this is a bit masochistic of a topic, but the reasons behind the logic of it are worth pondering. So the case can be made that the “lean eras” since the de Roulet era and first few years of the 1980s are probably the worst in team history, well from a fan of the team perspective anyway.
Yeah, sure the stats probably say that the 1962-1968 and the 1975-1983 Mets fielded some of the worst single season squads in baseball history, attendance in the late 1970s was abysmal, and say what you will about the 1990-1996, 2002-2004 and 2007-present Mets, it seemed that the “darkest before the dawn” period in those years lasted much longer. But there are plenty of variables around in the last 25 years that were not around in those times that make it seem that a Met fan is worse off today during a struggling period, than they were back in the early 1960s, or late 1970s.
First off, you can actually track this reason down to an exact date. July 1st, 1987. WFAN goes live, on the 1050am frequency. All-sports radio, while granted it was born during the heyday of the 1980s Mets gave rise to more vocal parts of fandom. And generally fans that spoke the most, in terms of the general rank and file callers, were to lodge complaints. While WFAN was a few months away from going live, Howie Rose loves to tell about how he was taking callers on the Mets Extra postgame radio show following 1987’s Opening Day, and immediately callers were opining about how the Mets could win with Rafael Santana as the regular shortstop!
This was beyond the simple reading the latest missive from a paper columnist, even the hosts would get in on the act when it came to riling up the fanbase. And occasionally some would even admit that what they would say as soon as they got on the air would be to simply get the phone lines burning. Oh they were saying what they felt, but with some added spice to get callers to react to them one way or another. Perhaps Mad Dog Radio on Sirius/XM should be changed to Mad Troll Radio then!
Speaking of trolls, the next obvious difference is the rise of the internet and social media. Now any Tom, Dick or Harry can get a free blog, discussion board account, or join a social network site and blather all day about the Mets. And that includes engage in conversations with other fans, and even members of the media or the teams themselves in manners far less civil than your standard bar room conversations that turn into brawls. To say nothing about the childish level of discourse one can find in the comment section of articles; and that includes the big outlets such as the local newspapers, radio stations, and cable networks such as ESPN.
The latter of course can be an offshoot of the all-sports radio rise as well. While ESPN was around before WFAN, the explosion of ESPN as a multi-media empire, which would lead to imitators in all the various mediums, didn’t happen until the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Now the details of what the Mets did in their most recent game, transaction, latest press conference or whatnot could be accessed faster, and in a number of different ways, and now with instant reaction to what happened.
Of course the explosion of instant access to the news and opinions are one thing, but they do tend to help embolden certain opinions of the state of the franchise in one way or another. For the vast majority of the internet the Wilpons, as one example, are a favorite whipping boy target, and while there is truth in the vitriol, and at times it is warranted, there comes a point where opinions tend to start becoming fact. Especially if one starts going off on conspiracy theories based on reading a story or two from writers without much actual evidence.
And that generally is a consequence of this age, where a dominant opinion or a general perception gets turned into a fact. A good example is the idea of how the Mets can be this bad while playing in New York City, which in and of itself is a perfect illustration of the differences between the futility of the 1970s and today. This of course is based on the Mets playing in the second biggest organized team league in the country (I’m guessing the futility of local NHL and NBA teams are not subjected to this) and the largest media market in the country. This would make someone, especially a host of a nationally based show on the radio or TV, or blog, curious as to how the Mets are not perennial contenders for the World Series every year. Of course this is tied into the renaissance the city has been enjoying over the course of the last 20 plus years. The market, in terms of being a communications hub, was probably still percentage wise as big as compared to other markets back in the 1970s, but the idea of “how can a team in the “Greatest City In The World” be this bad on a consistent basis” didn’t really start, or couldn’t really start is a better way of phrasing it, until New York City started to reclaim that title.
In some ways that doesn’t quite make sense. Teams in large markets have had futility eras that have stretched decades, and in Chicago it is now nearly 70 years since the Cubs’ last NL pennant, to say nothing about the 105 since their last World Championship! And to further illustrate that point, was anyone saying that from 1989-1992 when the Yankees failed to finish with a .500 record and averaged 72 wins? Of course anyone who believes the premise of having a bad stretch of years while playing in New York City is something you have to try hard to do could come back with “well, the City wasn’t THE CITY then” but it is still a false premise. Though still, the idea of it as a preconceived notion is one that plaques the Mets since their last championship parade.
This segues nice to the final reason why this is probably the worse time for the Mets to experience years of futility, the Yankees. Interestingly enough, the Yankees were THE YANKEES from 1976-1981, and their success as a division contender extended through most of the mid-1980s. But it seems that their success since 1995, and obnoxious fan behavior, has intensified. The most likely culprits would probably be the aforementioned rises of all-sports radio, television, internet and social media. Of course the Yankees have earned the attention and boldness of arrogant troll…I mean fans on the air and in cyberspace with; 2000’s .540 clip being the lowest winning percentage that the Yankees have completed a season with since 1992’s .469, 5 World Championships with an additional 2 other appearances in the Fall Classic, and only one season of failing to miss the postseason since 1995.
Of course the “little brother” syndrome is over blown. One would hope the Mets do not base their decisions on what the Yankees are doing, or strive to be like them. After all, George Steinbrenner was mocked for such “winning the back pages” tactics back when the Mets were out pacing the Yankees in back page headlines. But it does exist in the media, and it being prevalent does lead to the general idea that things were never this bad, or the gulf between the two organizations was ever this big.
That mentality, especially among radio hosts looking to spark conversation during a long shift, or a blogger looking for page count hits, leads to a favorite bit of angst that is usually fostered upon the Mets and the Met fan base during the most recent years of futility; the idea that the Mets become irrelevant when they stink to the high heavens, usually because the Yankees are so much better and demand more attention being given to them. This of course gets negated by the simple fact that the person is actually bringing the Mets up! But there it is nonetheless, the idea that in this market, which also encompasses the Major League teams that play home games in Northern New Jersey and Long Island, and various major collegiate athletic teams that only require an hour or so drive from New York City, that the National League Major League Baseball club would somehow fall below collegiate teams in terms of coverage by the local media when they have years of bad performances. Just reading that sentence makes one double over in laughter at the absurdity of it.
Oh sure, back in the 1970s the Mets wouldn’t be getting the attention they do today based on the smaller amounts of mediums and outlets, but it is safe to assume that one didn’t quite call attention to how far on the totem pole they thought the Mets should be in terms of giving serious coverage to. But, the fact that the perception of irrelevance exists, especially in light of how dominant the Yankees have been during the same 20 year stretch, adds to the idea that Met fans have it worse when the Mets have been bad in recent years as opposed to the 1960s and 1970s.
So, while yes, times have been worse in decades past, but in a lot of ways one can say as a Met fan, tough times to seem to be tougher to go through today.